Which Credit Card Should You Use At Hotels?

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I’m often asked by readers which credit card they should be using to maximize points for a given hotel stay. Typically recommending which credit card is best for a particular bonus category (like dining) is easy. The added wrinkle with making this recommendation for hotel stays is that you don’t just have to consider which credit cards generally offers the best bonus categories for travel, but you also have to consider whether the hotel brand you’re staying at has a co-branded credit card that offers bonus points for stays at that specific brand.

In this post I wanted to look at the most rewarding credit cards for hotel spend in general (regardless of the brand you’re staying at), and then compare that to the bonuses on hotel spend offered by specific co-branded credit cards.

What are the most rewarding credit cards for hotel spend?

For this section I’m excluding co-branded hotel credit cards. That’s because I’m looking at the cards that offer the best bonuses on hotel spend in general, rather than the best bonuses for a particular brand of hotel.

So, which major credit cards offer bonuses for hotel spend?

1. Chase Sapphire Reserve® 

Reward for hotel spend: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $450

Learn more about this card here.

2. Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

Reward for hotel spend: 5.1% (3x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95
Things to be aware of: This is a business card, and the 3x points is limited to the first $150,000 in combined purchases in bonus categories each account anniversary year

Learn more about this card here.

3. Citi ThankYou® Premier Card

Reward for hotel spend: 4.5% (3x points, which I value at 1.5 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95, waived the first year

Learn more about this card here.

4. Citi Prestige® Card

Reward for hotel spend: 4.5% (3x points, which I value at 1.5 cents each)
Card annual fee: $450

5. Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Reward for hotel spend: 3.4% (2x points, which I value at 1.7 cents each)
Card annual fee: $95, waived the first year
Other things to be aware of: This card has no foreign transaction fees, so you can earn 2x points on your dining spend globally

Learn more about this card here.


The Sapphire Reserve offers triple points on hotel spend

How do co-branded hotel cards compare?

As you can see above, I think the clear winner here is the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. The card offers triple points on hotel spend, and I value those points at 1.7 cents each, so that offers a return of 5.1%. Do you get a better or worse return when using a co-branded hotel credit card?

To be comprehensive, let’s look at the co-branded credit cards issued by Hilton Honors, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Rewards, Radisson Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and World of Hyatt. First let me share how much I value a point in each of these currencies:

  • Hilton Honors — 0.4 cents each
  • IHG Rewards Club — 0.5 cents each
  • Marriott Rewards — 0.8 cents each
  • Radisson Rewards — 0.4 cents each
  • Starwood Preferred Guest — 2.4 cents each
  • World of Hyatt — 1.5 cents each

To keep things fairly simple, let’s look at the co-branded credit card from each of the hotel groups that offers the highest return on hotel spend:


I use the Sapphire Reserve for my hotel spend at Hyatts

Crunching the numbers

Everyone will value points differently, and those with different points valuations may also come up with different conclusions. Personally I think the Chase Sapphire Reserve® has the best general bonus category for hotels, as I value the return at ~5.1%.

What’s largely surprising is that co-branded hotel credit cards don’t offer a better return for stays at their “own” hotels than the Reserve does for all travel purchases. Based on my valuation of hotel points, only Hilton’s most premium credit card offers a return on hotel stays that’s better than the Sapphire Reserve.

Now, I should mention that there are other potential considerations when deciding which hotel credit card to use:

What’s your go-to card for hotel spend? Do you find it more worthwhile to put spend on the hotel’s co-brand card, or do you instead use a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®?

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Comments

  1. Lucky, do you get any value out of the Visa Signature / Infinite luxury hotel perks? I have in the past, and that is another reason why the Sapphire cards could be beneficial when booking at luxury hotels

    Also, you earn 5x on hotels booked through Amex Travel with the Platinum – useful for Four Seasons, Mandarins, boutiques, etc.

    Surprised that the SPG Luxury card doesn’t have a higher bonus on SPG/Marriott stays than the Consumer Card

    The Hilton cards (both Ascend and Aspire) are excellent for Hilton and other bonus categories, and should get more play here, but otherwise the Sapphire cards win

  2. For me the most lucrative promo for low-mid tiers are Amex Offer > Citi 4th free > current bonus points from hotel > Reserve/Prestige.

  3. Fantastic timing with this article! I am leaving for a 2 week trip to Europe tomorrow and was debating on bringing my Hyatt and Marriott cards for the hotel spend or using my Reserve. This sealed my decision for just bringing the Reserve!!

  4. For stays of 4+ nights, Citi Prestige is by far and away the best card. Assuming a 16 2/3% tax rate and a 4-night stay, you save 3/14 on the hotel and 4.5% x 11/14 on the spend = 24.96% cash back. For a 7-night stay, you save 6/49 on the hotel and 4.5% x 43/49 on the spend = 16.19% cash back.

  5. With regard to the hotel branded credit cards, it’s important to check whether there is a foreign transaction fee. The old Hilton Surpass card did which made it useless when traveling abroad — its replacement, the Hilton Ascend, card fortunately does not.

  6. The valuation of the Chase Sapphire Reserve only seems high due to the arbitrary decision you made to add 10% to the 1.5 cpp that Chase UR points have making them 1.7 cpp. If you take them at redeemable value of 1.5 x 3 = 4.5% return, then they are in line with the return you give for the various hotel affiliated cards. In fact, significantly behind the Hilton Aspire earnings.

  7. @ Gene – “For stays of 4+ nights, Citi Prestige is by far and away the best card.”

    I haven’t done the math, but at some point in a lengthy stay, that will not be true. I suspect it would probably require a pretty long stay, though.

  8. The Hilton Ascend earns almost as many points as the Aspire on Hilton stays (12x), seems to trigger Hilton targeted offers, and is a nice compliment to the CSR (grocery and gas bonus categories). Makes more sense for our family than paying for an auth user on the CSR, and we use it on Hilton stays.

  9. Isn’t there a further argument for using a card with a transferrable currency over a simple hotel card is that you’ve got more options and you’re less vulnerable to currency devaluations?

  10. Lumma,

    It depends. I recently booked a $950 three day stay in July at a Hilton brand with the Ascend. How many points do I get?

    12x Hilton Points x $950 = 11,400 Hilton Points
    When I stay, I also get
    Hilton Honors Base Earning:
    10x Hilton Points x 950 = 9,500 Points
    Hilton Honors Gold Bonus (gained through Ascend Card)
    80% Bonus on points = 7,600 Points
    (And while I’m getting double points from Hilton’s summer promotion, I’m ignoring that here for the purpose of this analysis)

    So arguably the return on using the Ascend card is 11,400 + 7,600 = 19,000 points
    19,000 points using Lucky’s 0.004 valuation (too low) gets you $76 in value, or 8% on Spending. The 8% back may be more valuable than getting a more flexible currency. Theoretically you could simply get Ascend or whatever for the status bonus and use UR for booking the hotel, but you may as well book using Ascend if you have it.

    The math is fuzzier if you get Hilton Gold via some other method (like Amex Plat ownership, or actual hotel stays), but when you double up status bonuses with spend bonuses, the math changes a lot (less of an issue with airline miles as cards generally don’t get you status bonuses)

  11. My go-to is B of A’s Premium Rewards, 3.5% cash back. For those not interested in the hoops to hold assets at MerrillEdge, I’d suggest Barclaycard Uber. If one has a Costco membership, their Citi card also offers 3% back.

  12. “Based on my valuation of hotel points, only Hilton’s most premium credit card offers a return on hotel stays that’s better than the Sapphire Reserve.”

    Well, not if you look at self-anointed “Thought Leader in Travel’s” recent hotel program ranking, which concluded that Hilton has “weak rebate” – a claim that anyone who knows how easy it is to earn loads of Hilton points would have known was garbage without the fuzzy math. I had to resist the urge to do a long post over at IF blowing up that ‘simple model’ to bits (I might yet do that) 😉

    But the key thing that keeps getting left out of these comparisons is that LOYALTY POINTS HAVE NO REDEMPTION VALUE UNTIL, well, THEY ARE REDEEMED. Book a 5-night award stay in a Water Villa at Conrad Maldives right now and you get a redemption value of ~4cents/$. i.e., 10x more than the value of .4cpp being peddled. And, it goes without saying that there is a range of redemption values in between, as well as below .4cpp (maybe also higher than 4cpp but likely rare). What gives?

  13. @ tda — Agreed. I was being lazy! For my household, we would switch hotels or check-out/check-in again every four nights since my spouse also has the Prestige card. That is why I limited m example to seven nights.

  14. @glenn – the “arbitrary” decision to make ultimate reward points worth 1.7 cents is because they are flexible and can be redeemed in other, potentially more valuable ways (airline miles, etc). lucky simply believes that makes them worth more than the 1.5 cents you could get redeeming through the chase portal. while it is subjective, it is not really arbitrary. and certainly no more subjective/arbitrary than the values he selected for the different hotel points which you don’t seem to have an issue with.

  15. @anthony, that’s not really an accurate assessment. you say, “Theoretically you could simply get Ascend or whatever for the status bonus and use UR for booking the hotel, but you may as well book using Ascend if you have it.” but… the entire point of this post is to more precisely answer whether you “may as well book using Ascend if you have it.”

    once you have the ascend card, you’re gold status with hilton regardless of whether you pay with the ascend card or not, so the 7,600 points earned as a gold member don’t count when evaluating which credit card to pay with for a stay. you’d still get those 7,600 points now if you paid with the reserve or any other card so you should only be evaluating the 11,400 honors points earned from the card for the stay vs. the 2850 ur points you’d earn with the reserve (or any other combination). you’re welcome to quibble with lucky’s $0.004 honors point valuation, but that’s why he’s always quite clear that everyone should run their own numbers.

    the 7600 points DO matter when debating whether keeping the ascend is worth it (and count on all hilton stays regardless of what card you paid for the stay with). unless you also have gold status from some other method, in which case the math for keeping the card gets fuzzy, not the per-stay math of which card to use.

  16. All have you to do is mention the word Hilton and here comes DCS crawling out of the woodwork. Ugh.

  17. Lucky, while I really enjoy many aspects of this site, especially the reviews and photos of First Class flights and lounges, as well as the news items, the one thing that is off-putting is your constant bias of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum cards. It feels as if every article you write about credit card spending, you always finds a way to make one of these two cards the top card no matter what.

    For example, I really find it hard to believe that the 3x points from the CSR are worth more than the 12x or 14x points from the Hilton Ascend or Aspire when staying at a Hilton. I can understand the comparison when using a hotel-branded card at a different chain, but not when using a co-branded card at that chain.

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